Friday, May 28, 2010

Blog Overload

May has been a busy month everywhere but here on this site. Work has kept me on my toes; my lovely wife had her PhD graduation ceremony earlier this week, and we've had lots of guests here at the Texas Embassy in Waltham.

All of that has led to a dearth of entries on this site and a mild lack of inspiration to pontificate. I'll be back here at some point, but in the meantime check out some of the other blogs I've started recently. I've been focusing my efforts on Boston Breakers Report and particularly on West Ham U.S.A. So, if you like soccer, give them a read.

And if you like any of the stuff you see here or on the other sites, spread the word to other people you think might be interested, too. I'm not looking to build a media empire here, but it's always fun to have comments from all different kinds of places and people.

Happy Memorial Day weekend.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hail, Excelsior!

A few years back, I spent about a year living in a neighborhood of Rotterdam called Kralingen. Now, Kralingen is a post unto itself, which I might get around to writing one of these days. But this post isn't about the neighborhood. It's about the neighborhood's football club.

Probably less than a mile away from where I lived, down by Erasmus University, where my rugby buddies on the Rotterdam Student Rugby Club went to school, there was a tiny stadium. It was mostly metal, and it held maybe 3500 people. And in it played Excelsior Rotterdam. I never went to see Excelsior. I never thought much of the club. I did, however, have some moments of excitement thanks to Excelsior.

I remember looking out my apartment window one fall evening to see two groups of people moving toward each other. One group was made up of Excelsior supporters (of which there weren't very many, period--Feyenoord is the giant club in Rotterdam). The other group was a gang of Sparta Rotterdam supporters. Sparta, the second-biggest club in Rotterdam, played across town in a respectable, 12,000-seat stadium.

Fans of the two clubs were not fond of each other, and on this night, before a Dutch Cup match between the sides, the supporters had decided to have a bit of a tussle. They surged toward each other like gangs from West Side Story, except without the dancing. Then, suddenly, two vans full of Dutch cops pulled up on the avenue outside the apartment. The police poured out of the vans dressed in riot gear and ready to break some heads. That was that. Crisis averted.

Some time later, though, things got heated again. Both clubs played in the second flight of Dutch football back then. There must have been an Excelsior-Sparta match down at the little stadium one night because the hooligans were out again. This time, they managed to find each other. As I sat on a tram headed into downtown, I heard a loud noise and felt the tram car shake. Somebody had set off some sort of small explosive device.

When I looked out the window of the tram, I saw in the darkness maybe 100 people chasing each other around a grassy area between the two sides of a boulevard. Then, I looked over toward a strip of bars and restaurants that I quite liked--De Stoep was a favorite with the rugby lads, and Locus Publicus had a spectacular beer selection. On the average night, these places were spirited but relatively calm.

On this night, however, the hoolies were raging. The bar-restaurant strip was a few steps down from sidewalk level. From the tram, I could only see the tops of people's heads. But when I looked more closely, I saw something bobbing up and down. It was a metal chair, and somebody was clearly using it to beat somebody else. I was in the eye of the storm.

Oddly enough, I found this event fascinating, not threatening (although I'm certainly not condoning that sort of behavior). And as the tram managed to pull away, I looked back and got as good a look as I could at the chaos. I never saw another riot after that, but I figured that by getting in the middle of a fight between Dutch football firms (albeit while sitting inside a large metal container), I could tick another box on my list of "quintessential European experiences."

For some reason, after I left Rotterdam, I developed a little fondness for Excelsior. This was a minuscule club that was a laughing stock in its own neighborhood--my rugby friends constantly mocked it (and Sparta, for that matter). Loving the underdog as I do, I started looking out for Excelsior's results. It had, after all, been my legitimate neighborhood club for a while, complete with neighborhood thugs and neighborhood riots. No plastic fan was I. Excelsior belonged to me, even if I'd never entered its little stadium with the unpronounceable name.

So, it gave me great pleasure today to read that not only had Excelsior won promotion to the top flight of Dutch football, it had done so by beating--and relegating--Sparta Rotterdam. That means that some of the biggest clubs in Europe--Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven--will play in the little stadium in Kralingen next season, in front of 3500 complete nutters. That actually happened a few years back--after I'd left Europe--when Excelsior won promotion and spent one season in the Eredivisie before going back down. I remember watching on TV here as Excelsior, in the rain at its little metal ground, beat mighty cross-town rival Feyenoord. It was a fine moment indeed for my old local club.

Today, though, was arguably one of the greatest moments in Excelsior history (which, by the way, dates to something like 1902)--not only are Excelsior going up, but Sparta are going down. And just look at how my little club did it! After a 0-0 draw at home in the first leg of the relegation-playoff tie, Excelsior traveled west to Sparta. In another tight, scoreless match, Excelsior won a penalty in the 86th minute. Striker Guyon Fernandez had a chance to be a hero...but Sparta's goalkeeper saved the penalty. Then, disaster...Sparta scored. In the second minute of injury time.

All seemed lost, but the match wasn't over yet. Not even two minutes later, Fernandez redeemed himself. He drove home a fantastic goal just at the death of the match, giving Excelsior a draw. The away goal tipped the tie in Excelsior's favor, and the little club no doubt set off wild celebrations in Kralingen. (You can actually watch highlights of this match here, and no, they weren't easy to find. I've had to use my Dutch a bit today.)

Tiny Excelsior won't likely last more than one season in the top flight, but at least the little stadium down the street from my old place will be rocking with first-class football again. And as fans of the ultimate underdog, that's all Excelsior supporters really want--a shot at the big boys and a chance to turn (or possibly bash) some heads.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Breakers 1-2 Gold Pride: Match Report Now up on Bleacher Report

Note: This entry also runs on Boston Breakers Report

Marta is just unbelievable. She's in the pantheon: Gretzky, Jordan, Pele, Schumacher. Watching her play tonight was a pure pleasure, even if it did lead to a 2-1 loss for the suddenly struggling Breakers. Check out the match report on Bleacher Report.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Breakers, Freedom Blown Away in 0-0 Draw

Note: This entry also appears on Boston Breakers Report.

The latest match report is up on Bleacher Report. It's based on Comcast Sports Net New England's coverage of the match, which had all the picture quality of an Internet video from 2001. There's not much to say about this game, really--strong winds in Maryland rendered passes useless and played pretty effective defense for both teams. For the second match in a row, the Breakers failed to score. They also haven't won since their opening match--a 2-1 win in a less-windy Washington. Friday night brings Marta and FC Gold Pride to Harvard Stadium. The game will start at 7:30 pm.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I've been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately (more on that in some other post), and for some reason I've been digging around on YouTube for old commercials from the Dallas-Fort Worth area that I remember from childhood.

I haven't found many, to be honest--but I did manage to unearth an audio clip of the best. jingle. ever. (Hit the tiny little play button on the tiny little bar that comes up in the link to hear the tune.) It comes from the old Dallas Times Herald newspaper's vintage ad for its classified section (yes, kids, there was an era before Craigslist). The ad ran on radio and, to a lesser extent, on TV from the late '70s though, if memory serves, the late '80s. (The Herald folded almost 20 years ago, in late 1991.)

No matter, though. Hear this jingle once, and you'll never, ever forget the long-defunct (or possibly reassigned--although that's hard to imagine) phone number for the Dallas Times Herald's classified section. Advertising wizards, take note: I've seen and forgotten a million of your post-modern, ironic, too-cool-for-school spots, but I will never, ever, ever forget 748-1414. Ever. That has to mean something, right?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Not Exactly Boiling Over

Given my tendency to complain about even the smallest of inconveniences, I should be raging right now. After all, since Saturday, we haven't had potable (love that word) water here in Waltham. A pipe burst near Weston this past weekend, interrupting our flow of filtered tap water. We now have pretty much pure pond water flowing through our taps.

That means that we (along with 2 million other people in the Boston area) have to boil water before using it for anything but a flush or a shower. Frankly, I do smell a bit like pond water these days after I emerge from the shower, and I've had pond-water hair for the last few days as well. I just boiled a pot of water to use for toothbrush-rinsing purposes, and we've been drinking bottled water procured on Saturday by my lovely wife, who got to the grocery store right after news of the burst pipe broke and bought lots of bottles of water before the masses descended upon local stores and picked them clean of eau en bouteille.

All of this sounds like a real hassle and a great opportunity to complain about Greater Boston's crumbling infrastructure, or maybe a chance to point out the odd circumstance of floods here in March followed by a water shortage in May. But the truth is that this whole water thing just hasn't been that big of a deal at our house. We haven't taken the City of Waltham up on its offer of free bottled water, but the city has done a pretty good job of distributing bottles to schools, old-folks homes and poorer neighborhoods. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of real suffering going on in Greater Boston at all--the authorities have (from what I can tell) done a good job of warning people about the drinking ban and getting clean water to those who can't afford it or who need it most.

Outside of occasionally forgetting to rinse my toothbrush with the water in the pitcher next to the bathroom sink and perpetually smelling (and feeling) a bit the way I do after a swim in Walden Pond, I haven't experienced any real inconveniences from this whole water emergency. And if we do get our regular tap water back within the next couple of days, as some officials are now predicting--well, that will be just great. So, instead of being boiling mad about our little water scenario, I guess you could say that I'm just plain boiling. And it's really not that big of a deal.